The Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center held its second event for the 2019-2020 school year on Saturday, when it hosted the Forthun+Rome Dance Theater.
This event was the summation of this year’s annual Art Residency Dance Program that is hosted by Gonzaga's theatre and dance department. The program entails a weeklong collaborative process between students within the theatre and dance department at GU, and an outside professional dance company, which helps the students construct a live show for the public in less than a week.
This year, the two founders of the Seattle-based Forthun+Rome Dance Theater, Ethan Rome and CarliAnn Forthun-Bruner, an adjunct professor in GU’s theatre and dance department, worked with two different dance classes and the university’s Repertory Dance Company.
“CarliAnn and I planned beforehand to schedule the piece, but doing such a quick turnaround relieves the pressure in a way because you don’t have time to ever second-guess yourself, you just have to make a decision and stick with it,” Rome said. “With such a short amount of time but such an intense process, you get to connect with one another very quickly.”
Rome and Forthun-Bruner arrived on campus the Monday prior to the performance, Sept. 16, to begin the program. That same day, prospective dancers auditioned to be a part of the Residency Showcase Repertory Company and seven dancers were cast for the group.
Throughout the week, Forthun-Bruner and Rome worked with a few different dance classes, both sections of Jazz Dance 1 and Contemporary Modern Dance 1, for only the available time permitted in class, and rehearsed with the university’s Repertory Company whenever possible from Tuesday until Friday.
“Scheduling time to rehearse was a little funky because on that short of notice with seven different college kids made for a difficult obstacle to get through,” said Andrea Bracamonte, one of the performing members of GU’s Repertory Company. “The biggest thing was taking care of our bodies, because we had a lot of rehearsal time in a short span, [Forthun-Bruner and Rome] were very cognizant of making sure we weren’t getting injured before the performance, that after rehearsals we were all stretching together, making sure we’re eating well and getting enough sleep.”
The week of practice, while short in time, was intensive both physically and mentally for the dancers of GU's Repertory Dance Company. They had to manage school work and various other commitments while still fitting in the 10 total hours of rehearsal the group got together, plus whatever time spent outside of the studio each dancer spent attempting to perfect their eight-and-a-half-minute long piece.
One advantage that everyone involved in the event got, was that they could practice on the stage that they would be showcasing on in the Myrtle Woldson Center, which is an opportunity rarely afforded to dance companies during rehearsals as they usually have to practice their pieces in studios with different dimensions than the stage they’ll be performing on.
“It was unreal honestly, because the theater is so beautiful and the quality of the stage is just incredible, so the fact that we were not only able to perform on that stage but have the opportunity to rehearse on it too every day was amazing,” Bracamonte said.
For the show, there were three live performances put on by the student dancers, accompanied by three videos by the Forthun+Rome Dance Theater and a live demonstration by Forthun-Bruner and Rome on the different ways to perform improvisational dance.
The first piece to start the event was performed by the students in both of the university’s jazz dance 1 sections. The more than two-minute long piece was learned in two class periods with Forthun+Rome and the 10 dancers.
The second piece of the night was performed by the students in Contemporary Modern Dance 1, a 200 level course in the theatre and dance department. They were able to perform a minute long choreographed dance after only one 50-minute class period with Forthun+Rome.
After the first two live performances by students, Forthun-Bruner and Rome displayed their three videos.
The first was a piece titled “123 10 Ave. East,” which was shot with a male and female pair of dancers who work with Forthun+Rome in Seattle as they danced concurrently along a blocklong mural on Capitol Hill in Seattle. The dancers flowed off one another while simultaneously having their dancing reflect the type of mural art they were in front of at the time.
“I have a specific narrative that I think is kind of evident with that film, but it also leaves a lot of room for interpretation,” Forthun-Bruner said. “I never actually met with the mural artist of the work that we danced with, and that mural no longer exists, unfortunately. But I feel like it was very much a collaboration with that muralist even though we never met.”
The second and third videos shown were part of an original series by Forthun+Rome that they started in 2016 called “Phone Tag.” Both of the videos involve Rome and Forthun-Bruner as the central characters in a struggle to get ahold of a phone from one another. The first of the two parts was shot in the Olympic Sculpture Park, part of the Seattle Art Museum, while the second part was filmed on Alki Beach in Seattle.
They went through the three forms of communication one can have in improvisational dance; sound, action and physical touch. Forthun-Bruner and Rome let the audience choose both what the signal for each type would be and what action it would indicate, whether it be a slide, roll or pausing motion, and then the two professionals would demonstrate with a 30-second piece for each one.
As a professor at GU, Forthun-Bruner feels like she can bring a good structure of improvisational dance to the university’s theatre and dance department.
“I’m really contemporary and contact improv based, which I hope can help bring extra variety to the program,” Forthun-Bruner said. “I love sharing my love of dance and instilling that in others along with that mindset that you can make opportunities within a dance career outside of college.”
The night ended with the Residency Showcase Dance Company’s performance. Their more than eight-minute long performance kept the crowd in wonderment for its entire duration as the seven dancers involved moved fluidly in sync with one another through both smooth maneuvers and more violent actions.
“We had six types of catastrophes in mind and we used that for inspiration for embodying those,” Forthun-Bruner said. “For example, one of them was a volcano and we were really fascinated by lava and how it oozes.”
On Nov. 23, The Forthun+Rome Dance Theater will return to the Myrtle Woldson Center to perform with their own professional dancers from Seattle live, alongside Gonzaga’s Residency Showcase Repertory Company who will be performing the same piece that they showcased on Saturday after a few months of further refining it.
“We were really excited with how the show went, we got a lot of positive feedback, and the amount of people that showed up was already indicative of how well it was going to go,” Bracamonte said. “It got us really excited for the rest of the year that we can keep working on this piece together and perfect it.”